Jan 282014

First, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mihran Keoseian and I live in Groton, Massachusetts. As a retired Superintendent of Schools who has served as a Groton Selectman, and who is currently working as a school Turn Around Specialist for Underperforming Schools in New York City, I would hope that my comments and observations will provide some thoughts and suggestions to help deepen your reflections on the current state of financial affairs and take appropriate action moving forward.

I come here today as a concerned and frustrated citizen who is compelled to address the ongoing conversation about the District’s significant shortfall.

We teach our students to take ownership and responsibility for their learning and their actions. I ask the current school committee to do no more than what we demand from our students.

A quote from Albert Einstein summarizes it best: “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”. Let’s pay heed to this very prophetic comment and take the time to more deeply dissect some of the positions and assertions you have taken to date which, in my opinion, detour the conversation from the root cause of this issue.

Comments like the following serve little purpose when put in the forefront of the bigger conversation: On December 12, 2013 The Groton Line: “It was unclear whether the problems began to develop during former Superintendent Joseph Mastrocola’s tenure, or under his predecessor, Superintendent Alan Genovese.”
“The committee has declined to place the blame at the feet of any person or people. Instead, members said at the meeting and in the media release, the deficits were created by a combination of factors…..[3 references cited].

As a community, we have very generously supported our schools—despite the contrarian claim by some—and we cannot move forward until you, the School Committee, first claim ownership of this financial mess. I would invite you to review your own policies and those policies that your are legally bound to adhere to as ascribed by statue and recommended to you by the guidelines set forth by the Mass Association of School Committees (MACS).

While we are most fortunate to have Dr. Bent leading our school district — a man whom I have the utmost respect for as a colleague and professional, he, too, must be held accountable, as per your own policies pertaining to the Superintendent’s role in overseeing the budget, for failing to see this extraordinary shortfall long before the opening of school.

Moving Forward. While you are tackling the how’s of addressing the current budget crisis, I would ask that you concomitantly research and adopt a 3 “P” approach to ward off future financial catastrophes—3 P’s standing for: Policies, Protocols, and Procedures that define how the School Committee will (not should) become more actively involved in overseeing and monitoring the budget that rises to the level of fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities to ensure and safeguard the use of public funds. Contained within these 3 P’s are clear guidelines to be an integral, investigative part of the budget process rather than the recipient of information.

For example, when Superintendent Mastracola submitted his FY 2014 budget, he was touted by many—including the School Committee as the one “for bringing the district budget under control.” When, in fact the school committee should have dug a lot deeper to understand how a near level funded budget can support an increase of 20 additional staff members?

Another way to tighten up your oversight responsibilities regarding financial matters is to look more closely at the language contained within your own policy guidelines Fiscal Management Goals (adopted 11/5/97). For instance, you state (abbreviated):

“3. To use the best available techniques for budget development and management.
5. To establish maximum efficiency procedures for accounting, reporting, business, purchasing and delivery, payroll, payment of vendors and contractors, and all other areas of fiscal management”.

… but you fail to concretize how that policy will be overseen by using sound accounting tools to measure and monitor—prior to adopting a budget.

Given the magnitude of this matter, I urge you to take an aggressive, proactive approach to restoring public confidence to convince us that you truly are the stewards of our schools.

I have no doubt your hearts and minds are in the right place, we now need to accompany good intentions with deliberate, well-defined, actions and tools to take care of the management part of your roles and responsibilities.

Public confidence needs to be restored and it can only be restored if this Committee takes an aggressive, pro-active, strategic role in the oversight of this ~30M budget which the town has entrusted to them.

Respectively Submitted,

Mihran Keoseian